CARCASS: SURGICAL STEEL (2013)
1) 1985; 2) Thrasher's Abattoir; 3) Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System; 4) A Congealed Clot Of Blood; 5) The Master Butcher's Apron; 6) Noncompliance To ASTM F 899-12 Standard; 7) The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills; 8) Unfit For Human Consumption; 9) 316L Grade Surgical Steel; 10) Captive Bolt Pistol; 11) Mount Of Execution; 12*) A Wraith In The Apparatus; 13*) Intensive Battery Brooding.
Legendary bands never really die — they just build up anticipation for a reunion tour. In the case of Carcass, this happened as early as 2007, and they even got Amott to take a break from Arch Enemy and rejoin. However, by the time they were ready to re-enter the studio, Amott left once again, so the resulting album was made by the trio of Steer, Walker, and new drummer Dan Wilding, whose style, it is said, reminded the band very much of original drummer Ken Owen's (Ken was debilitated by a hemorrhage and could not play, but, in a carcass-sweet gesture, they still invited him to provide some backing voc... uh, grunts).
Asking the common question of «can they still cut it?» is commonly senseless, because of course they can — had they not been able to keep up with past standards of loudness, speed, heaviness, and grossness, this album would have never been made. A better, and tougher, question is «is there still any reason left for them to cut it?», because the entire (relatively brief) career of Carcass had been about evolving, and unless they convincingly show that they can pick up from where they left off with Swansong and show new paths of activity for the 21st century, Surgical Steel is pretty much bound to find itself in the used instrument bin.
Adding up the style and quality of the riffs, the production values, and the ambiguous nature of song titles and lyrics (which has more than a few nods to the early goregrind values, but also hearkens back to the sociopolitical angle of Swansong), Surgical Steel finds itself closer to Heartwork, I'd say, than any other Carcass record — which is hardly surprising, considering how Heartwork has emerged as the most fondly remembered album of 'em all. Elements of almost perverse melodicity shine through beginning with the very first track (ʽThrasher's Abattoirʼ), where Walker growl-sings strings of polysyllabic words to a sped-up Sabbath-style riff, concluding that "Hipsters and posers I abhor / Welcome to the thrasher's abattoir" — a nice amalgamation of the band's morgue grossness and social stance all in one. (So now you know who was actually pictured on the front sleeve of Putreficiation — hipsters and posers!).
That said, like on Heartwork, any perceived melodicity here serves one and only one purpose, and by 2013, we should have all learned that purpose by heart. That all the songs immediately merge into one big ball of thrashing riffs, histrionic solos, and werewolf growls, is a self-understood limitation of the genre. Problem is, there's hardly anything else to it: the band's sense of humor is not very efficient, the social message is not working, and they have not really developed any new musical ideas — all that «now we're playing fast... and now we're playing very fast without losing the melodic edge» schtick is already so familiar that only a total novice could be properly amazed at the way they're doing it.
The last track, ʽMount Of Executionʼ, is their first (I think) attempt at a massive epic, a sort of revision of Biblical history where the events of Golgotha are perceived as the signal for a "dark mobilization" (well, it's Carcass, what do you want? not exactly the house band for love, mercy, and forgiveness), and it's got an acoustic introduction, some old school metal riffage, and on the whole sounds more like a mix of Sabbath and Amorphis than a band that once vied with Napalm Death for supremacy on the grindcore field. Repeated listens turn it into a clear favorite, but it's still just one track, and, unsurprisingly, the least Carcass-ish of 'em all. The rest all sound kinda cool while they're on, but fade into oblivion exactly fifteen seconds after they're gone.
Incidentally, one of the bonus tracks on the Japanese edition, called ʽIntensive Battery Broodingʼ, sounds almost exactly like Sabbath — in fact, they could have done a generous deed and donated it to Iommi for his 13 project (on the other hand, it lifts a crucial chord change from ʽInto The Voidʼ, so maybe they'd be too embarrassed to hand Tony a variation on his own music). This just goes to show how much the band has «regressed» back to heavy rock values of the 1970s, which is indeed in line with their development in the 1990s — but also suggests that this is sort of the natural way to go, as you just cannot keep chugging out the same radical thrash / grindcore riffs forever, if you think of yourself as a musician rather than a sonic entertainer. Unfortunately, it's way too hard to be just a heavy metal musician and retain your own unmistakable identity, and lack of identity is what Surgical Steel suffers from the most, even as it keeps kicking your putrefying, suppurating, crepitating, virulently ruptured ass all the way through.